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Electric futures

A new research project in the making! Virtually every scenario for the rapid decarbonization of the global economy to address climate change features a significantly expanded role for electricity in the future energy mix. Whether in the context of transitioning automobile fleets to electric vehicles or making better use of renewable energy sources like solar, wind, and hydro power, greater societal investment in electricity appears to promise a route for maintaining and even expanding the conveniences and luxuries of modern life while significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions. As it was in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, electricity is thus once again becoming a subject of intense cultural, political and technical attention, conversation and intervention. Although some believe that renewable- and nuclear-sourced electricity has nearly salvational promise in the struggle against climate change critics have also raised important questions about the social and environmental impacts of expanded reliance upon electricity as well as enduring questions of energy equity and climate justice especially in the global South. Whether operating in the register of aspiration or caution, what seems clear is that imagining how electricity will be provided, to whom it will be accountable and to what uses it will be put, is rapidly becoming one of the more salient cultural, political and technical conversations of the 21st century. This research project, “Electric Futures” focuses anthropological attention on efforts across the world to design and enact new models of electrical infrastructure and “electrical democracy” as different communities and nations reckon with the implications of Anthropocene processes such as global warming. I hope to undertake field research in California and Texas focused on their competing models of electric futurity and to work together with colleagues at the Humboldt University Berlin to start an Electric Futures international research network.

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